At the Heat’s postgame presser, coach Erik Spoelstra said that every time his team got within six and eight points, the Nuggets were able to push the lead back over double digits. In real-time, it was like watching an older sibling raise an object out of reach of a younger one.
A mixture of man coverage and the 2-3 zone thwarted Denver’s plan of attack in the first quarter. It was the opposite of the start to Game 3, as Miami had locked up the paint Friday and allowed three of 11 shots to fall early. On Wednesday, the hosts couldn’t stop Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray from getting what they wanted inside, but the attempts outside the lane were contained.
First, Miami harassed every Nugget role player, only permitting two field goals by guys not known as the Joker and the Blue Arrow. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. were seeing various defenders when they stepped into the paint with the ball and failed to finish through traffic.
Midway through the first interval, Jokić twisted his ankle between two Heat defenders while going up again for a putback. Like sharks smelling blood in the water, the Heat targeted him in drop coverage and on drives after a mismatch on the baseline. The Joker still played the opening 12 minutes and got a short break as Gordon woke up and carried the Nuggets into the next period.
There was nothing single coverage could do for AG as he scored 15 points in the second quarter on six of seven shots. When given space on the wing and in the corner, he splashed two trifectas. With Caleb Martin on his back in the post, Gordon scored twice, canning a nine-foot fadeaway and turning around for a thunderous jam.
In the first half, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were the only Heat starters producing. Kevin Love got on the scorecard with a 3-pointer, but Max Strus and Gabe Vincent were dead freight, each logging donuts. Off the bench, vintage Kyle Lowry discharged 13 points on three of four shots and six made free throws.
At the intermission, the Heat was down 51-55.
Spoelstra gave Strus and Vincent short leashes in the third quarter, but they should have been glued to the bench altogether. Strus missed two shots on the left wing and defended poorly off-ball, allowing a backdoor cut plus the score and another inside gash from Porter. And with the burst Lowry gave before halftime, Spoelstra, naturally, turned to his vet, playing him triple Vincent’s minutes in quarters three and four.
Like in Game 3, the turd quarter returned, affecting everyone minus Love. He unleashed a flurry of nine points with back-to-back triples and a contact layup rewarded with a freebie. Yet, Butler floundered on three straight looks, misfiring on the break, smoking a hook in the dunker spot, and fizzling on a pull-up in front of Murray in the post. Adebayo also converted one of four tries with no free throws and had three turnovers in the third.
Early in the fourth quarter, Jokić picked up his fourth and fifth fouls, earning him a seat for five minutes. When he sat, the Heat made three of seven shots, but it was still down nine points when he returned.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished two coffin-closing defensive sequences in crunch time. First, he stripped Butler as he was getting backed down through the middle, sparking a three-on-one break, and then successfully contested Adebayo’s turnaround jumper from six feet out.
Bruce Brown logged four of five shots in the fourth and was the only visitor to make multiple field goals in the last frame. Every bucket he hit was like a sledgehammer to the backside of the Heat as it tried to get up.
The Nuggets won 108-95 to take a 3-1 lead in the Finals heading back to Denver.
Postgame, Butler said the team’s mentality was the same as it always is: thinking about one game at a time.
“Now we’re in a must-win situation every single game… It’s not impossible, so we got to go out there and do it. We got three to get,” Butler said.
In NBA history, one team has come back from a 1-3 deficit to win the Finals: the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers that defeated the 73-win Warriors outfit. The all-time record is 1-34.
The Heat will not practice or hold media availability Saturday.
For all your Heat/Panthers daily fantasy plays, use the code “five” at PrizePicks.com and your initial deposit is matched up to $100.